Posted on 8/13/13 10:53 AM
Steven Spielberg is one of the finest directors ever in the history of Hollywood cinema. For over five decades, he's released hit after hit after hit, and still continues to gain strong support from new generations of film fanatics. In 2011, Spielberg released two films on the same week, The Adventures of Tintin, an animation film in style of Spielberg's own Indiana Jones movies, and War Horse, a heavy, moving melodrama involving the bond between a boy and his horse during WWI. The film I'm about to review, War Horse, is a nice Spielberg film, but it's far from being a great Spielberg film.
Thoroughbred horse Joey is bought by the drunken farmer Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan), intending to make him a plow horse. During this time, the horse develops a heavy bond with Ted's son Albert (Jeremy Irvine), and begins to teach him new tricks. But WWI arrives, and the family is struggling to pay the rent to the landlord (David Thewlis, who's outside his Hogwarts comfort zone here), so Ted sells Joey off to the British military. Albert vows to join the army and reunite with the horse. While Albert is waiting for the right age to join, Joey ends up being dubbed "The Miracle Horse", ending up on both sides of the war, gaining friends with a black horse, and gaining support from German brothers and a French farmgirl. Eventually, Albert becomes old enough to join the war, but by then, both sided reach No Man's Land, and things get emotionally complicated.
War Horse also features Emily Watson as Rosie, Albert's mother, Tom "Loki" Hiddleston as Captain Nicholls, a British officer who claims Joey immediately after being sold, and Benedict Cumberlatch plays British major Jamie Stewart.
Steven Spielberg has made some wonderful films over the years. with greats like Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET, and Jurassic Park. He's also produced loads of wonderful films as well, such as Back to the Future, Gremlins, The Goonies, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and True Grit. In the case of War Horse, it's not a true masterpiece, but there's things to like here.
Some things Spielberg is known for achieving in his films are emotions and actions. He managed to make many cry when ET was dying in a creek, and cheer when Indiana Jones escaped from the boulder. In War Horse, Spielberg managed to achieve these things again, but to a lesser level. He succeeded in handling emotions between the boy and the horse, and got me cheering in the film's highly impressive battle sequences, especially it's recreation of the Battle of the Somme, with it's trench warfare and poisonous gas. But I was wanting more out of the famed director.
The cinematography is a huge gigantic marvel. The location shots in England in France are beautiful and the darker battle scenes are shot to perfection, But really impressed me the most in the cinematography are the ending sunset shots, which feel reminiscent of Gone with the Wind. Those shots alone prove that Spielberg still has heart after all these years, though this isn't his greatest accomplishment.
What was wrong with the film, you ask, if it has the usual Spielberg elements and wonderful cinematography? Well, the human emotions don't deliver strongly. Jeremy Irvine, who plays Albert the boy, was a little wooden in the role. He succeeds in the bond between him and the horse, but in combat, he's flat. It looked silly that Spielberg wanted him to imitate Lawrence of Arabia (which incidentally, is Spielberg's all-time favorite movie), so that reference didn't pay off too well. Other human actors are memorable in their roles. I enjoyed Peter Mullan as the drunken father, Emily Watson as the concerned mother, David Thewlis as the landlord, and Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberlatch as British officers. I just wished they were given more to do.
Also, some of the subplots were a bit boring. Scenes where two German kid soldiers debating on whether they should fight was very unnecessary, and a sequence where the horse is with the French farmer is a bit underwhelming, though the child actress playing the girl was pretty good; she had more emotions that Jeremy Irvine. Had the German scenes been cut and the French farm scenes extended, then I might have enjoyed it more.
Also, some of the dialogue was a bit goofy. Throughout the film we have lines like "You fell on your bum in the countryside?", "Don't ride the horse. It will kill your bones.", and "Ah. Gas. Gas. Gas.". Spielberg, this is a drama, not a comedy. Some of these lines, which was supposed to have sympathy towards the characters, turned it into a laugh house in some parts. Spielberg, who wrote your dialogue? George Lucas, perhaps?
But I will say I was impressed with the horse playing Joey. He was well-trained and managed to get some emotions out of me. I like that Spielberg managed to use a real horse and not a CG horse, though a sequence where the horse is caught in barbed-wire was done through animatronics, and I don't object to that.
John Williams provides the score, like he does in most Spielberg movies, and like his many great scores, Williams delivers once again. In War Horse, we have themes of adventure, drama, suspense, and emotions. Williams is my favorite composer for a reason, and War Horse is one of them. Can't wait to see what he does in the upcoming Star Wars movie.
It may have some unintentionally funny dialogue, it may have some underwhelming subplots and wooden acting, and it may sound too melodramatic to some, but as a whole, I quite enjoyed War Horse. It has some raw emotions, well-made battle sequences, impressive cinematography, and a wonderful John Williams score. What more do you need? It's not Spielberg's greatest achievement, but it's an enjoyable film, and shows that Spielberg is still a talented Hollywood director.